A well-documented part of growing up in contemporary Australia is the growing importance placed on young people to speak up about issues that concern them. This is known as ‘student voice’ or ‘student agency’ and it is a critical dimension of student wellbeing in schools. But this can be harder to do than we realise. We must create spaces where both individual and collective voices can be heard. We also need to create a culture of listening to these voices, even if we disagree.
As parents and teachers, sometimes the emergence of this voice can be unsettling or make us uncomfortable. Sometimes the way the voice is used can also be perceived as rude or entitled. There is a tenuous relationship between having a voice as a young person and having your voice heard – in a noisy world not all voices are heard and not all young people feel they have a voice.
I write about this because over the course of the week I had the great fortune of sitting with a group of Year 10s who used their voice for immeasurable good. It took them a while to find their voices with me; they don’t really know me very well yet and so much of finding your voice is about feeling you are in a safe space to be heard. But to their credit, they spoke up about the issues that are real and concerning to them; issues of diversity and inclusion, and of the power of how we use language to label people.
As a career-long educator, and as a mother of teenagers myself, it was a humbling interaction. It reminded me of how important it is for me to step away from the endless emails at my desk and to talk to our amazing students who have so much to say. Above all things I value honesty and courage and these students possess this in spades. They set aside their personal comfort to speak up and make me aware of what was on their minds and in their hearts. Because of this short but transformative conversation, I will look at ways I can encourage our community to be more inclusive of all people within our diverse school and to work with students and staff on ways we can be more inclusive.
At TKS we encourage our students to use their voices for good. Because of the courageous voices of some students I listened to this week, those voices will inspire change and action.